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I have worked with PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs (SRL) for more than a year now through Northview High School in Covina, CA, but I never thought I would have the experience of being a part of the behind-the-scenes crew for SRL’s Youth Debate Watch Party for a Democratic debate at Loyola Marymount University. I would have never imagined that an opportunity like this could ever be given to a high schooler, but PBS makes these professional events accessible to students like me.
Marie Cusick, youth media producer for PBS, guided me through the process of getting my credentials, which my teacher was very excited (and a bit jealous) about. I did not know the full meaning of the credentials until I got to the media center, where all the journalists, politicians, and reporters were buzzing. As my group and I, which consisted of two Northview alumni and two students who I had not met beforehand, walked into the media center, I felt like a real student journalist. I felt a part of the organization and the team.
In the center, we were assigned to interview influential people on what they believed would be talked about during the debate, what they believed youths would want the candidates to talk about, and about the importance of youth in politics. The video we were producing had a semi-broad topic but was ultimately centered on the youth of the nation. It was exciting to see all the people there because it gave me important insight into a reporter’s real job — insight that would not be attainable otherwise. Also, I had just taken my final for my AP Government/Economics class the day before, so I could not believe my eyes upon seeing the congress members; I could not believe that I was looking and working with people who shape policy.
After conducting several interviews, we filmed my group members’ stand ups and headed to the Youth Debate Watch Party, which was located at a different building than the debate itself. On our way to the party, we ran into presidential candidate Andrew Yang. He was so casual, just throwing a Wiffle ball with his people, minutes before the debate. He was wearing his signature MATH pin, which stands for his slogan, Make America Think Harder. He offered to take a picture with us — definitely a memorable experience.
We got to the Youth Debate Watch Party, where I found my classmates, teachers and principal, as well as many other students from L.A. County. It was a real party — complete with balloons, selfie booths, a popcorn bar, dinner and backdrops for photos. Tables were littered with pop culture stickers, debate topic bingo, free merchandise, tote bags and so many other fun things and amenities that only PBS can provide.
We ate and watched the debate, which was lively, but not nearly as lively as the party room. The students were actively listening and participating as if the candidates could actually hear them. It was quite a sight and gave me hope for the future of politics because it sent the message that my generation has a voice, a powerful voice that demands to be heard.
After a while of watching the debate and eating, I did my stand-up for the video, my first time ever speaking to the camera. It was kind of funny because I got the perfect take on my first try for the intro and outro, but after that take, I could not finish my lines without messing up. But I’m glad I did it. I knew I was capable because I’m not as shy as I was before and I’ve always wanted to act, so I wanted to take this opportunity.
I finished my stand-ups, the debate concluded, and the post-debate discussion panel began. The panel, like the debate, gave me faith in the future. Nearly all of us agreed that the candidates should have talked about topics that are affecting us now, such as school safety, climate control and much more. We were not disappointed, but we knew that there was more to talk about. The panel took questions from the crowd, and although it was composed of young adults and students, they all gave intelligent answers, further proving that youths have important things to say, something that PBS NewsHour’s SRL team already knew.
To say I am grateful for PBS is an understatement. I have been given many opportunities through PBS that can only be described as extraordinary. The Youth Debate Watch Party and the behind-the-scenes crew are definitely the best experiences PBS has given me, and I would just like to say thank you to everyone on the team: Marie, my teacher Amy Woods and everyone at PBS NewsHour SRL.